Reviews

Michael Kiwanuka Explodes Outward by Looking Inward

Michael Kiwanuka’s self-titled third album blends psychedelia & soul with exceedingly positive results.

Michael Kiwanuka has had an interesting decade. An English singer/songwriter, he enjoyed a good amount of attention in 2012 with the release of his debut album, Home Again, garnering critical acclaim and earning him several award nominations, including for a Brit Award and a Mercury Prize. 

2016 saw the release of his sophomore album, Love & Hate, with production back to front from Danger Mouse and UK producer Inflo. Love & Hate was met with universal praise and garnered Kiwanuka with many topping spots on several year-end lists.

 He proved himself to be an artist wise beyond his years, capable of crafting lush, fully realized landscapes, rooted in a bluesy, funky revivalist mythos, a movement still rife with promise and ideas. You might recognize the epic opener, “Cold Little Heart”, as the opening song for HBO’s smash hit Big Little Lies!

Three years later, after a lot of soul searching, and even getting married, Kiwanuka, Danger Mouse and Inflo return with Kiwanuka’s 3rd album, affectionately titled KIWANUKA; big, bold, and just as sonically rich as its predecessors, Kiwanuka only demonstrates his ability to grow and incorporate new influences into his already expansive wheelhouse. KIWANUKA, while still holding true to his soul revivalist roots, explodes with psychedelic flourishes and reverberating production that allows his songwriting and wisdom to permeate through every song.

Standout tracks like “You Ain’t the Problem”, “Piano Joint”, and “I’ve Been Dazed” allow for Beatles-esque reverb to carry Kiwanuka’s songs across flowerbeds drenched in sunlight, and even evoke fond memories with Tame Impala’s Lonerism, through a soulful and thoughtful lens.

“Hero (Intro)” into “Hero” give me flashbacks to The Black Keys’ “Little Black Submarines”, and demonstrate Kiwanuka’s ability to write socially conscious lyrics around police brutality and gun violence. As blissful and lively as the production and music on the album is, lyrically it never shies away from tackling relevant topics; Kiwanuka is influenced by seminal soul artists of the 60’s and 70’s not just in sound, but in lyrical eloquence as well.

As the album closer, “Light”, builds up from acoustic guitar to incorporate everything from weeping strings to crisp percussion and echoed backing vocals, I’m left truly in awe over Kiwanuka’s ability to further push his limits as an artist.

In a recent interview with Apple Music, Kiwanuka said of the album’s title and cover, featuring a portrait of himself, “I want to be able to say, ‘This is me, rain or shine.’ People might like it, people might not, it’s OK. At least people know who I am.” As long as Michael Kiwanuka remains unapologetically himself, I cannot imagine anyone not falling in love with his insightful, confident music any time soon.

Album cover courtesy of Polydor Records (UK)

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